29 August 2014

'For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life?' Sunday Reflections, 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A

The Crucifixion of St Peter, Caravaggio, 1600-01
Cerasi Chapel, Santa Maria del Populo, Rome [Web Gallery of Art]

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

Readings (Jerusalem Bible: Australia, England & Wales, India [optional], Ireland, New Zealand, Pakistan, Scotland, South Africa) 

Gospel Matthew 16:21-27 (New Revised Standard Version, Catholic Edition: Canada)
From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.” But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life? 

“For the Son of Man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay everyone for what has been done."

 A Man for All Seasons is a movie made in 1966, written by Robert Bolt and based on his stage play with the same title. It is based on the life of St Thomas More, Lord Chancellor of England during the time of King Henry VIII. His position would be similar to that of Prime Minister today. More refuses to  sign a letter asking Pope Clement VII to annul the marriage of the King to Catherine of Aragon who had not borne him a son. Eventually More is found guilty of high treason and sentenced to death.

During his trial Sir Thomas More discovers that Richard Rich, who had given perjured testimony against him, had been made Secretary of Wales as a reward for this. The laws of England were about to be extended to Wales, a country of 20,779 square kilometres in the southwest of the island of Britain which also includes England and Scotland. More says to Rich, Why, Richard, it profits a man nothing to give his soul for the whole world - but for Wales? [2:12 - 2:21 in the video above].

On Sundays in Ordinary Time the First Reading and the Gospel are linked thematically whereas the Second Reading is from on the Letters of St Paul read over the course of a number of Sundays. But this Sunday it is closely related to the other two readings in that it reminds us that as followers of Jesus we are called to be living sacrifices:

I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect (Romans 12:1-2).

The Prophet Jeremiah discovers the cost of doing God's will: I have become a laughingstock all day long; everyone mocks me . . . For the word of the Lord has become for me a reproach and derision all day long (Jeremiah 20:7,8).

St Peter cannot abide the thought of any such thing happening to Jesus: God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you. He receives an extraordinary rebuke from Jesus: Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.

Canonizations of Sts John XXIII and John Paul II, 27 April 2014 [Wikipedia]

Pope Francis on his recent visit to Korea touched on some of these things. I quoted from his homilies and addresses there last Sunday and would like to do the same this Sunday. In his address to the delegates at Asian Youth Day on 15 August he said [emphasis added]: 

This great gathering of Asian young people also allows us to see something of what the Church herself is meant to be in God’s eternal plan. Together with young people everywhere, you want to help build a world where we all live together in peace and friendship, overcoming barriers, healing divisions, rejecting violence and prejudice. And this is exactly what God wants for us. The Church is meant to be a seed of unity for the whole human family. In Christ, all nations and peoples are called to a unity which does not destroy diversity but acknowledges, reconciles and enriches it.

How distant the spirit of the world seems from that magnificent vision and plan! How often the seeds of goodness and hope which we try to sow seem to be choked by weeds of selfishness, hostility and injustice, not only all around us, but also in our own hearts. We are troubled by the growing gap in our societies between rich and poor. We see signs of an idolatry of wealth, power and pleasure which come at a high cost to human lives. Closer to home, so many of our own friends and contemporaries, even in the midst of immense material prosperity, are suffering from spiritual poverty, loneliness and quiet despair. God seems to be removed from the picture. It is almost as though a spiritual desert is beginning to spread throughout our world. It affects the young too, robbing them of hope and even, in all too many cases, of life itself.

Yet this is the world into which you are called to go forth and bear witness to the Gospel of hope, the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and the promise of his Kingdom.

Pope Francis is expressing, from a different angle, what Jesus is rebuking Peter about: the basic values by which we live, seeing everything through the eyes of Christ or seeing them through the eyes of others.

In his homily at the closing Mass of AYD2014 Pope Francis once again put before the young people of Asia, and before all of us, the values of the Gospel - and the choices that this may demand:

Returning to the theme of this Day, let us reflect on a second word: 'Youth'. You and your friends are filled with the optimism, energy and good will which are so characteristic of this period of life. Let Christ turn your natural optimism into Christian hope, your energy into moral virtue, your good will into genuine self-sacrificing love! This is the path you are called to take. This is the path to overcoming all that threatens hope, virtue and love in your lives and in your culture. In this way your youth will be a gift to Jesus and to the world.

As young Christians, whether you are workers or students, whether you have already begun a career or have answered the call to marriage, religious life or the priesthood, you are not only a part of the future of the Church; you are also a necessary and beloved part of the Church’s present! You are Church’s present! Keep close to one another, draw ever closer to God, and with your bishops and priests spend these years in building a holier, more missionary and humble Church, a holier, more missionary and humble Church, a Church which loves and worships God by seeking to serve the poor, the lonely, the infirm and the marginalized. 

I was delighted to see Pope Francis reminding the young people that, while they are part of the future of the Church, they are also a necessary and beloved part of the Church's present. When I was young I used to get irritated at adults telling us that we were 'the future' of the Church / the nation / whatever, which we were, but forgetting that we were also part of the present. And among the canonized and beatified martyrs of Korea we find children, adolescents, young adults, middle-aged and older persons, all ready to take up their cross and follow me, just as St Thomas More had done some centuries earlier on the other side of the world and as St Peter did on a cross hung upside-down.

In A Man for All Seasons St Thomas More is shown to be a man of great inner peace and joy, the latter not something superficial but something deep in his soul. Pope Francis speaks of this to the young delegates:

Finally, the third part of this Day’s theme – 'Wake up!'– This word speaks of a responsibility which the Lord gives you. It is the duty to be vigilant, not to allow the pressures, the temptations and the sins of ourselves or others to dull our sensitivity to the beauty of holiness, to the joy of the Gospel . . . Dear young people of Asia, it is my hope that, in union with Christ and the Church, you will take up this path, which will surely bring you much joy. 

Those final words of Pope Francis above echo the beautiful challenge of Pope Benedict to the young in the closing part of his homily at his inaugural Mass on 24 April 2005:

At this point, my mind goes back to 22 October 1978, when Pope John Paul II began his ministry here in Saint Peter’s Square. His words on that occasion constantly echo in my ears: Do not be afraid! Open wide the doors for Christ!' The Pope was addressing the mighty, the powerful of this world, who feared that Christ might take away something of their power if they were to let him in, if they were to allow the faith to be free. Yes, he would certainly have taken something away from them: the dominion of corruption, the manipulation of law and the freedom to do as they pleased. But he would not have taken away anything that pertains to human freedom or dignity, or to the building of a just society

The Pope was also speaking to everyone, especially the young. Are we not perhaps all afraid in some way? If we let Christ enter fully into our lives, if we open ourselves totally to him, are we not afraid that He might take something away from us? Are we not perhaps afraid to give up something significant, something unique, something that makes life so beautiful? Do we not then risk ending up diminished and deprived of our freedom? And once again the Pope said: No! If we let Christ into our lives, we lose nothing, nothing, absolutely nothing of what makes life free, beautiful and great. No! Only in this friendship are the doors of life opened wide. Only in this friendship is the great potential of human existence truly revealed. Only in this friendship do we experience beauty and liberation

And so, today, with great strength and great conviction, on the basis of long personal experience of life, I say to you, dear young people: Do not be afraid of Christ! He takes nothing away, and he gives you everything. When we give ourselves to him, we receive a hundredfold in return. Yes, open, open wide the doors to Christ – and you will find true life. Amen.

The Martyrs of Korea, St Thomas More and St Peter all discovered when they chose to lay down their lives for Jesus Christ and for the Gospel the truth of the words of Pope Benedict, He takes nothing away, and he gives you everything, words that echo those of Jesus himself as he speaks to us in today's Gospel, For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.


The song Koinonia, a Greek word meaning 'Communion', was written for the Apostolic Journey of Pope Francis to the Republic of Korea by K-Pop singer Noh Young-Shim and produced by Won Dong-Yeon for the Archdiocese of Seoul. The singer here is Sumi Jo, an internationally renowned soprano from Korea who sang before the Beatification Mass and also at Communion time during the Mass.

Let us continue to pray for Christians in Iraq and Syria who have been driven from their homes. These are descendants of people who became Christians in the time of the Apostles. they have been driven from their homelands.

Dear brothers and sisters,

The news from Iraq leaves us incredulous and alarmed: thousands of people, many Christians among them, are being driven from their homes in a brutal way; children are dying of thirst and hunger while fleeing; women abducted; people massacred; every type of violence; destruction everywhere; destruction of houses, of religious, historic and cultural heritage. Yet all of this grievously offends God and grievously offends humanity. Hatred is not borne in the name of God! War is not waged in the name of God! All of us, thinking about this situation, about these people, let us be silent now and pray.

After pausing to pray, he continued:

I thank those who, with courage, are taking aid to these brothers and sisters, and I hope that an effective political solution, both at the international and local levels, can put an end to these crimes and restore law. The better to ensure to those dear peoples of my closeness I have appointed as my Personal Envoy to Iraq Cardinal Fernando Filoni, who will leave Rome tomorrow.

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